Review: School of Language – Old Fears
Published on March 18th, 2014 | Jonny Abrams
School of Language is the ‘brainchild’ of David Brewis of Field Music, whose Plumb LP topped our list of 2012’s top 100 albums.
What a whirlwind year that was for Field Music, too – a Mercury nomination, constant touring, incessant promo… – and these exertions have evidently shaped a set of songs that sound considerably less like Field Music than first School of Language LP Sea from Shore.
Old Fears sounds surprisingly sparse and minimalist while subtly loading the mix with busy little elements that interlink and interact like the mechanics of a ping pong machine. No proggy time signature tricks here, and yet it’s a darn sight less immediate than Brewis’s usual fare.
Rubbery synths flutter in and out of opening pair “Distance Between” and “A Smile Cracks”, understated beatboxing and low, lazy backing vocals prop up the lightly mournful “Suits Us Better”…so unified of sound is Old Fears, as it happens, that it’s not until sixth track “Dress Up” that something approaching good vibes radiates from it.
Not that it sounds despondent, mind – aside from Brewis’s slightly haunted-sounding falsetto, some of it is actually quite playful. Take for example the panned-either-side call-and-response backing vocal motif within “Moment of Doubt”, which sounds like a more monastic take on Sea from Shore opener “Rockist Part 1”. It’s a neat studio trick.
“Moment of Doubt” also flaunts some ace loping drums that could be programmed or sampled but conceivably are real, such are Brewis’s considerable talents as a multi-instrumentalist.
Despondency does eventually take hold with the sombre piano and lachrymose lead guitar of closing track “You Kept Yourself”…well, perhaps ‘ruefulness’ is a better word to use here, as per lyrics like “You kept yourself as much from yourself as you did from me, or so it turned out” and the read-into-it-what-you-will “It makes no sense to go home”.
“You Kept Yourself” then takes a melodic twist in its brief snatch of chorus, hinting at the warm glow of Field Music at their prog-pop finest, before letting loose with a sax as the album drifts off into well-earned slumber.
It’s not exactly David Brewis’s most immediate work, and as such represents an ill-advised starting point for the uninitiated, but there’s still so much to reward the closer inspection of repeated airings.
Old Fears will be released April 6th on Memphis Industries.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!